Recently, Blizzard shutdown a large private server running what players lovingly refer to as "Vanilla WoW", the original version of World of Warcraft. This move has been making waves in the Internet, all without an official Blizzard response. There's even a petition for Blizzard to allow private servers that do not make any money running the game.
Blizzard is fully in the right to shutdown all private servers running their games. Not only is this a legal right, it is a smart move that protects the brand and the business. This might not be what people are expecting to hear from me, but as a former business owner, I understand that it is absolutely important for companies to maintain control over their creations. They made it and they own it.
Making WoW Legacy servers is not a smart business move and should not be done. 150,000 players is not that big of a number compared to the rest of their business. Sure, perhaps the 30 day active player number is a bit larger, but Activision Blizzard is one of the top companies in the industry. As a indie developer, I was very happy to break the 10,000 player mark on my first app, but these numbers are peanuts and do not amount to much in business terms. Internet buzz seems to highlight the 800k accounts, but that is not a good number to use when trying to convince a business to make significant investments.
Creating, maintaining, and managing legacy WoW servers would be more expensive than people think. Perception is everything, but if you do a quick number crunch, you will find that it is not favorable from a business perspective. Sure, you can speculate that 150k users paying $5 a month would make it worthwhile, but that is not guaranteed. Perhaps the legacy server community should do a Kickstarter to prove whether the idea is viable or not. My bet is that most of them do not want to pay for anything, but I would love to be wrong.
There are opportunities for Blizzard to gain from this exchange in brand image and manpower. The only part I disagree with in this move is how Blizzard has chosen to remain silent. The goal of public relations with your community is not to make everyone happy. The Internet will rage on regardless, but what a thoughtful response does is protect the brand by minimizing damage. A different approach could be outlined like this:
- Contact the server administrators to initiate dialogue and work together to reach an agreement on a self-shutdown if possible. Persuasion, diplomacy, and soft power before hard.
- If a self-shutdown cannot be agreed upon, create a statement that acknowledges the achievements of the community and its love for the game in its Vanilla state.
- Either way, work with the community to create a short tribute video so they can celebrate before the shutdown. Include some short appreciation comments from the original development team.
- Invite some key engineers and GMs from the community to apply at Activision Blizzard.
- Kindly refer all Internet Tough Guys and critics to the careful process and effort the company put into diplomacy and appreciation with the understanding that people will still hate.
- Shut it down.